NEW YORK – A once-powerful Afghan tribal leader who was tricked into coming to the United States by a promise of safe passage and then was arrested was properly convicted of drug charges that resulted in a life prison sentence, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Bashir Noorzai, chief of the million-member Noorzai Tribe, was properly advised of his rights during 10 days of questioning by the FBI in a Manhattan hotel before his April 2005 arrest on charges that he enabled $50 million of heroin to enter the United States.
Noorzai, who was on a list of the world's most wanted drug kingpins, was convicted in April 2009 of conspiracy to import heroin into the United States and to distribute it. An indictment accused Noorzai and his organization or providing weapons and manpower to the Taliban between 1990 and 2004 in exchange for protection of his opium crops, heroin laboratories and drug transportation routes.
Prosecutors said Noorzai briefly considered cooperating with U.S. authorities and offered information about his connections to Taliban leaders including Mullah Mohammad Omar, who was Afghtnistan's head of state before the U.S. invasion in 2001. Prosecutors said Noorzai complied with a request by Omar to supply 400 of his fighters in 2001 to fight the Northern Alliance after the U.S. began operations in Afghanistan.
Defense lawyer Alan Seidler said the findings by the 2nd Circuit conflict with Supreme Court rulings that dictate that Noorzai should not have been convicted because he did not arrange for the drugs to go to the United States. He said he will ask the full appeals court to rehear the case. If that fails, he said, he will ask the Supreme Court to consider the case.
Seidler had argued that Noorzi was lured to New York to meet with the government to talk about a possible role he might take in rebuilding Afghanistan. He met regularly for 10 days with an agent who identified himself as being with the Department of Justice. He was read his rights and questioned on a variety of issues, including Noorzai's knowledge of and participation in drug trafficking, according to the appeals court's summary of the case.
"What Noorzai did not know is that several months before he arrived in the United States, a grand jury returned a sealed indictment charging him with violations of the federal drug laws, and an arrest warrant had been issued," the court wrote.
The appeals panel wrote that Noorzai's statements were admissible at trial because he knew the agents he was speaking with worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and he was read his rights before being taken from the airport to the hotel and every day after that.
Follow Larry Neumeister at http://twitter.com/Lneumeister
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